Ramgopal Verma is one of the guys who caught my attention ever since his “Shiva” that released just a few days after we joined RECW. The initial admiration wore off after watching films like “Antham”, “Govinda Govinda” etc. My feelings about him, ranging from disappointment to hatred to sheer ridicule of what he does, are directly in proportion to his demeanor exhibited through his films and his interviews. My honest assessment of Ramgopal verma as a director can be summed up as:
– A guy who tries to be different, even at the expense of dishing out sheer non-sense
– A guy who is not sure of what he wants to convey through his films. He does not do his homework well (i.e. having the entire story ready before hitting the sets). He might start off with good opening scenes, but doesn’t finish off well, and hence leaves the audience confused. Going by one of his recent interviews (reproduced down under), he takes pride in admitting that he is confused
– A guy with a knack for generating pre-release hype for his films
– A guy who takes pride in ridiculing the conventional (even the good things about being conventional, like, say, having a beginning and an ending for a story)
I have some specific issues to discuss about RGV, but for today I will leave you with the excerpts of one of his recent interviews (probably most sensible of his interviews that I came across):
You come across as a modern filmmaker with a yen for making slick movies. Why haven’t you experimented with family dramas, considering they do so well?
“It’s not that I’m against family dramas, but there should be something in the subject that excites me, attracts my attention. There has to be some factor that excites me. Not just telling a simple story. There has to be some extra bit that attracts my attention, I could put my family drama in it, but not simply a family drama. Normal things between people revolt me. Husband and wife fighting, I just can’t do it; they wasting their time on simple family matters.”
One thing about your films is your plots have always been very simplistic — very A-to-B plotlines, but you take a lot more interest in the screenplay — the characters are a lot more fleshed out, it’s all about the screenplay, the dialogues and things like that. Is there a particular reason to this? Don’t you want to tell a bizarrely unique story?
I somehow don’t believe films are about stories. Films create an effect, an emotional experience that forms what you take home. In fact, looking back from the day I was watching films, I don’t remember any of the stories of the films. I just remember shots, I remember moments, I remember songs, I remember a dialogue somewhere.
Now, take the greatest Amitabh Bachchan films: I don’t remember a single story from the films. I don’t think anyone else would either. If I asked you what is the story of Amar Akbar Anthony, you won’t be able to tell me.
The emphasis on ‘story’ is basically highly exaggerated. Because I think the primary purpose of the story is to abet and make the next moment work. I’ll give you an example: Take the biggest hit of all time, Sholay. It’s about a guy who hires these two guys to take revenge on a man who massacred his family so brutally — this is the plotline of Sholay. The story demands you to hate the villain, and the audience comes out loving him. Which means the story had failed, technically, the story has not worked.
But that is the same story which gave rise to those unforgettable moments, from ‘kitne aadmi the?’ to Helen’s Mehbooba song to Dharmendra-Amitabh Bachchan’s comedy track — everything you remember from Sholay is a selection of great, but isolated moments. It’s not as if you’re emotionally connected with the script of Sholay. If you were, you wouldn’t have loved Gabbar Singh (laughs). That’s my ultimate proof of what it’s about!
So you don’t limit yourself to anything?
(Smiles) No, I don’t limit myself to anything. It should just be startling; it should be shocking. I don’t mind making a bad film, an ugly film, I just don’t want to make an okay film. I don’t mind being hated, but I hate being ignored. I want an extreme reaction. ‘Kya bakwaas film banaata hai!’ – I don’t mind that. But I don’t want them being indifferent.
Films, today, are a medium of entertainment. I don’t think it’s really so much about business and risk.
Are we ever going to see a Ram Gopal Varma Box Set on DVD or something? Because it’s such an unexplored format in terms of India, and there’s so much insight the added features could give your fans. Commentary, deleted scenes etc will enhance the film.
(Nods, smiles) That’s actually a very interesting idea. I’ll have to look into it, I don’t know who owns which rights of which of my films, but it’s worth looking at. An interesting idea indeed.
The problem is I don’t have respect for the films I make, after I’ve made them. I detach myself and get embarrassed when I watch them later. After the first copy comes out, I lose interest in the project. Then I only have an interest in the audience, and their feedback: liking it, disliking it, finding meanings I didn’t intend. I listen to these reactions. After that, if I ever catch my films on television, I change channels. I find it irritating to watch them.
Which of your films do you personally prefer over the rest?
(Smiles) I like some moments in my films. Some moments in Satya, Company, Rangeela, and even Daud. And Bhoot. Any film, whether it worked at the box office or not, I’ll have my favourite moments from it.
For me, I say directorially, Bhoot is my best film, because what is directing about? You have material, you have a script. Then you cast actors, use the medium — camera, music, sets — to enhance the effect.
Company has material, Bhoot doesn’t have material. 75 percent of the film is just two people: Ajay Devgan goes to office, comes back, Urmila Matondkar sits at home, watches television. And all that time, you’re playing with the psychology of the mind. That is what direction is all about: creating a vision about the nonexistent thing.
Company has material, it was about creating the packaging. It had very serious material, characters and relationships. Even if you tell the story of Company, it’s a proper plot – it’ll hold you.
But holding the viewer’s attention, without having a story, is what directorial capability is really all about.
What kind of films do you like to watch?
In recent times, I’ve been most captivated by the film Requiem For A Dream. I rarely watch films, and today, films don’t hold me, as my mind keeps running in different directions. I can’t concentrate. The moment the film goes a little here and there, I lose interest. Or else I start editing the film (laughs), which spoils it for me. That’s the sad part. Watching a film has become very technical.
You grew up watching movies. What were the big influences while you still devoured cinema?
I lived in the theatres. A very bizarre selection of films influenced me, actually, from Enter The Dragon, to Peter Seller’s Pink Panther series to McKenna’s Gold to Chori Mera Kaam, to Himmatwala with Sridevi and Jeetendra; to The Godfather, even Kalyug. All kinds of films.
You mentioned The Godfather. Just how much does Sarkaar owe the (Francis Ford) Coppola classic?
Let me put it this way: if The Godfather hadn’t been made, Sarkaar wouldn’t have been made. That is the truth.
The similarity of the stories is that of a powerful family who has the clout to work outside the system. The difference is The Godfather is about a criminal organisation, and Sarkaar is not a criminal. He’s a powerful political figure — there are a hundred people like that in India, maybe even a thousand. All of them will have similar stories. This identification factor makes it a strong film.
I’m sure I’ll be paying homage to a lot of incredible scenes from the film, but the basic story is not that of The Godfather.
When you say paying homage – you’ve grown up watching this eclectic collection of cinema – do you ever cinematically pay homage to them in your other films?
I do that all the time. Every film I make is actually only that. I don’t think I create anything original. I would just do it as it relates to that particular story, to that particular context. To today.
So Naach is a homage to what?
Naach actually, is my most original film. You won’t see a relationship with any film. Sarkaar you’d see that; Bhoot obviously; Rangeela also – somewhere, I mixed parts of Sound Of Music with Basu Chatterjee’s films and something interesting emerged. Naach, I think, is me at my most original — in terms of subject matter, characters, and cinematically, the way it’s shot.